Monday, October 30, 2006

Other People's Money

I'm relishing New York magazine's newest issue because it's all about the subject I love to hate (and complain about and lecture about): money -- especially how money applies to New York.

I doubt anyone who read this story about the "spending diaries of "real New Yorkers" (cough) wanted to punch Brian the "grad student" in the balls as much as I did. Last time I checked, wasn't the commonly held perception of a grad student (especially those who are studying "fiction" [cue laugh track]) supposed to be someone who is poor and working his way through the extraneous schooling his parents refused to subsidize? Apparently not. Brian lives in a posh $1,800-a-month West Village share (that his parents are "helping" him pay for), holds a gym membership at Equinox (that his parents pay for), and has school tuition (that his parents pay for). Boyfriend also has a serious espresso habit that's surely the cause of the migraines he suffers, which necessitated the $125 he dropped to treat them with acupuncture. And is he going to give up his $80 Iron Maiden concert ticket? Helllllz, no! This guy needs to be dragged across the river to Jamaica, Queens, and forced march down the street in his tighty-whities, waving the American flag. (I think I'm subconsciously reffing an episode of "The Simpsons," but that humiliation fantasy seems pretty apropos in this scenario.)

Am I jealous of Brian the "grad student"? Of course! But no more so than I am of William the Trader's wife, who has somehow justified spending $270 for a haircut while having no real job of her own. If I knew in high school that the occupation "wife" would be more lucrative than my entire career's worth of paychecks, I would have sunk my college tuition money into plastic surgery and miniskirts.

Side note: I think David Amsden did a great job on his story about how money can come between friends. (I totally identified with Liz, which should surprise absolutely no one who semiconsistently reads this blog.) And I was riveted by Jennifer Gonnerman's story of an impoverished father.

Friday, October 27, 2006

C is for Cookie

Now I'll have to admit I'm a gym bunny if I tell two gym stories in one week, but here goes:

I hopped on an elliptical trainer yesterday magazineless because my gym's mag racks were just not working for me. (No offense to anyone who reads Boating or Dirt Bike magazines, but they're just not my cup of tea. Not in this tax bracket, anyway.) After one minute of facing a robin-egg blue wall while stairstepping into oblivion, I knew I was going to need some distraction. I spotted a fresh stack of Woman's Day magazines that someone (a WD staffer, probably) had dumped onto the rack, so I hopped off mid-revolution to grab one.

Not wanting to thwart my cardio progress (um, level 5 out of 20, but whatever -- I had a pace going), I started pedaling immediately. I guess the mag I chose was hotter off the press than usual, because when I opened the cover, the first page fell out and drifted lazily to the floor. Now, in the grand world of gym etiquette, I think it is perfectly all right to drop a small item (magazine blow-in card, water bottle cap, iPod Shuffle...) and leave it there with the intention of getting it later if you're mid-workout.

So I left it.

For two seconds.

Until I realized what page had dropped: It was a full-color Pepperidge Farm advertisement featuring a giant chocolate-chip cookie. We're not just talking a cute Pillsbury plate of cookies with a loving family gazing at it adoringly. We're talking a cookie so giant, so GARGANTUAN that it was too big to fit on the entire page. Now. Ordinarily, I would have left a stray piece of paper on the floor and picked it up after I rounded out my 30 minutes. But considering the subject matter of the page (a swarthy piping-hot 3,598-calorie chocolate-chip cookie), I envisioned everyone in my row of ellipticals and the row of bikes behind me staring at the cookie on the floor for an entire 28 minutes and salivating, with cartoon pop-out eyes, vowing to blow their diets as soon as they walked out the door of the gym and into the neighboring deli. It would be a gym rebellion. And I didn't want to be implicated in the mutiny.

So I stopped mid-revolution and did a deep squat usually reserved for gymnasts and/or exotic dancers from off of one of the elliptical shoe pads in order to retrieve the cookie that ate Manhattan. I then promptly stuffed it behind the tips I was reading on how to properly clean behind my sofa.

You win this time, giant cookie. This time.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Anger Management

Reader, I want to make a confession: As you may have already suspected, your very own Newbie tends to be somewhat emotionally disturbed. And New York only heightens my "issues."

For example, when someone is walking slowly in front of me and I have somewhere to be (like my living room, in preparation for The Biggest Loser), I sometimes have to bite down on the inside of my cheek to keep from stepping on Slow Walker's heel, causing his/her shoe to fall off, and then picking up said shoe and hurling it to the other side of the street if only so Slow Walker will be forced to cross the road so I can cut a direct, speedwalk-friendly path to my couch.

Sometimes, after a really bad day, I envision myself in streetfights with various Manhattan cliches: Staten Island girl is going down because her earrings are too easy a target for ripping. Beautiful model won't have the energy to deflect my blows anyway due to malnourishment, but I'll avoid her bony elbows/knees by going for the face, which she's sure to protect at any cost.

Due to the social code, however, I refrain from acting out my rage. Today, however... Today, the day was MINE. At the gym, I signed up to mount an elliptical trainer at a prescribed time because my gym is small and fascist (but cheap). When my time rolled around, though, someone was still using my allotted machine. Now, I hate this scenario because it's always awkward. If I'm the one doing the scolding, I always hate having to initiate an unpleasant confrontation for something that the offending party should have been aware of anyway (namely, a clock and/or the concept of "time"). If I'm the one being scolded, I'm always a little miffed that my time has to be cut short because the person who went before me was an inconsiderate asshole who stayed on beyond his allotted 30 minutes. But I digress.

I trudged up to the elliptical trainer to look my foe in the eye. But, wait! This wasn't the usual Johnny Gymgoer I encounter at my decidedly unfancy Midtown gym. It was a former sorostitute, in the flesh. How did I know? Because she was WEARING A T-SHIRT THAT HAD HER SORORITY LETTERS ON IT. Phi-Beta-Gamma-Kappa-Whateva. Inside, I grinned an evil grin. This would be fun.

Conveniently, I was wearing a pink top so she couldn't be mad at me because for all she knew, I had been a sister myself. I plastered on my best Midwestern cheerleader smile and planted myself directly in front of her, "Hi!," I said. "I've got this one at 6:30."

She peered down at me from beneath a blond ponytail, her flawless moon face clearly displeased. "At 6:30?"

"Yep!" I said, smile intact, and I stood my ground -- stood right there so she would back away from the elliptical as soon as humanly possible. Oh, she got a few more revolutions in, all right, but she left, and I was happy. It was a small victory in the great New York war of entitlement vs. hard work, of lemming vs. thinking I've created in my head.

Moral of the story: If you've lived in New York long enough to be the proud owner of a second-rate gym membership, you should know not to wear your sorority letters anywhere in this town.

She didn't deserve to walk these city streets, let alone commandeer an elliptical trainer.

P.S.: I really liked this blog entry today. (via Gawker)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Newbie Goes to the Movies

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a rabid Augusten Burroughs fan. So it's only fitting that I dragged the Boyf to the Clearview Theater in Chelsea this weekend to see Running with Scissors before the rest of the country got the chance. (Actually, we went twice: It was sold out on Friday night, and we went back early the next evening to catch it before it was too late.)

I really liked the movie. There were some clear cinematic digressions from the book -- somewhat necessary to give the film a sense of story (as in, a beginning, middle, and end) where there basically is none since it's a memoir, not a sculpted novel. And in that sense, I agree with the Times review that Augusten's character seems like an observer most of the time to a series of disjointed vignettes. But, honestly, that's how I felt about the book -- that it was scattered and crazy with near-incomprehensible squalor -- and, unlike the Times reviewer, I don't see that as a negative. In the book, Augusten can't be an actor in his own fate (until the end, at least) because as a minor with few human connections in the outside world, he has no choice, so I didn't feel that took away from the movie at all. On the other hand, I've read the book, so this film was more of a complement to what I'd already read -- a sort of DVD extra. The Boyf, who's only read half of Burroughs's memoir Dry (to which I said, "Half?! How could you find it that easy to put down, never to come back to again?!), felt he was left hanging by the film.

Also, memo to the Academy: Please, please, please give Annette Bening her Oscar this year. I know you'll be tempted to give it to Helen Mirren, but in Scissors Bening singlehandedly shows how moving "real" women's roles can be if only Hollywood would write more of them.

And one final thought: At the end of the movie, a teenaged Augusten, completely out of options, says he's leaving and taking the bus to New York. I liked that: The idea of New York as not necessarily utopian, but escapist and full of possibility. I think that concept has been lost in popular culture in the past two years or so. The post 9/11 New York is seen as either ominous or gentrified. Look at the popular conceptualization of New York today: From the shiny veneer of "The Apprentice" and the high fashion of "Project Runway" and The Devil Wears Prada, to the new Republican campaign scare tactics about possible terror attacks to Oliver Stone's movie, those are the images of New York we're dealing with. I'm sure that some teenagers today are still full of hope and look at New York idealistically, but I don't think that's the pervasive sentiment. I'm not even sure if that's my sentiment about New York anymore, and that's why I moved here. But for a second, at the very end, Scissors recaptured that for me, and that's just another reason why I love Burroughs's writing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

High School Stuff

Somehow fittingly, seeing as how my last post was about high school, I went to this last night. It really was pure comedy, seeing other people read their old diaries and mock their decade(s)-old pasts with such complete abandon.

The narcissistic part of me really wants to read in the next one, but the shy part of me doesn't want any part of it. 'Cause, see, well...I know this may be seen as dumb by others who are self-actualized enough to disregard their pasts, but I think anything we write about ourselves -- at any age -- is valid and true and worth something. I'm not so ready to sell my 14-year-old self out, no matter how naive and insane she was. And maybe that's just naive. Or this blog entry is. But I'm a tad bit tired of snark.

I Swore I Wouldn't Do This...

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine whom I hadn't spoken with in six years. He found me through MySpace, through mutual friends because I don't have a profile. We talked for two hours, we laughed together, and it was so similar to old times it was eerie. But we talked about high school, too, and now I'm rattled just thinking about everything that happened there -- all the embarrassment and the mistakes and my utter lack of understanding as to how life works.

"You should get on MySpace!" my messianic old friend said. "Everybody's on it, and it's a great way to reconnect with people."

"Maybe I will," I said, smiling. Because networking is good, right? New York has taught me that at least. And I entertained the idea for a while. Until I started looking at the profiles of the homecoming queens and my old crushes and other vastly better-adjusted people whom I probably would have gotten along with if I hadn't been such a fucking basketcase. The trip down memory lane was depressing and dredged up memories I've been working for years to suppress and paint over.

I'm more than a thousand miles away from home, and considering where I'm from, the fact alone that I've moved away is something to celebrate. But I don't feel it sometimes. Sometimes I just remember feeling so awkward, so hated, so alone. If MTV's "Made" has taught us anything, it's that we should be more comfortable with who we are even when we feel like standing alone in a corner and sulking. It's been years now. Why haven't I learned that lesson?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Deers and Don'ts: Don't Do This with Your Money

Somebody somewhere actually clicked the "I'll Take It!" button on this website and bought the Mounted Deer Head Necklace pictured at left for $250. Yes, that's right -- $250. Because this product is currently sold out. Is anyone surprised this is a "deal" courtesy of Daily Candy?

Someone thought to herself, "Video iPod or Mounted Deer Head Necklace? The necklace, of course!" She thought, "Money toward paying my parents back for all the crap I've charged to their credit cards or Mounted Deer Head Necklace? I think I'll take the necklace!"

Readers, I think you know what this means. It means I'm forced to resurrect the Skull and Crossbones of Financial Ruin, which means, in no uncertain terms, "HOW NOT TO SPEND YOUR MONEY."

(<-- Skull and Crossbones of Financial Ruin)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Oh, Henry.

Um, so, did anyone see this story on today? A 63-year-old-man, fed up with the anorexic job market for guys his age, robbed a bank to intentionally get three years in prison -- with the room and the board and the food and everything that goes with it.

Did anyone tell this guy that he's essentially ripping off one of the best O. Henry stories ever (film version starring Marilyn Monroe)? When I saw this news article on, I'm not going to lie: My eyes lit up. It was life imitating art, and I adore this guy for bringing to Ohio's attention that the concept of minimum-wage work that pays the bills is pretty much a fairy tale these days. I hear you, Timothy J. Bowers. Now all that's left is getting the country to side with you.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pedicure Psychology

I crawled out of my bottomless pit of freelance work for about an hour today -- long enough to get my nails done. (I guess I could have gone to the gym, but a girl's gotta have her priorities straight.)

I went down to my favorite manicure place (New Modern French Nails, if anyone's genuinely curious) for the $20 mani/pedi special and picked my colors: Chocolate Kisses for the feet and, when that color turned out to be too streaky, I was forced to go with Wicked for the hands, which turned out to be superior anyway.

I like pedicures, but I usually feel weird about getting them, about paying minority women a paltry amount to fawn over your feet like you're some sort of queen or dutchess or at least a secondary character on a CW sitcom. So when my pedicurist started to talk to me in broken English, I listened up as best I could:

Cherub-faced pedicurist: "You on holiday today?"
Me: "What? Oh. Yes. Yes, I am."
CFP: "You a teacher?"
Me: "Oh, no. I work at [redacted]."
CFP: "Ohhh!"
(A brief silence.)
CFP: "I am from Nepal. I wanted to be journalist. I like to...(she searches for words)...write. In newspaper. But"
Me: "Ah, yes."

I don't want to believe that she said "fail." I could barely understand her when she asked me whether I wanted her to pumice my feet; maybe I'm mistaken. But she kept talking.

CFP: "The fighting in Nepal got too bad. My in India. I tell her to be journalist, but she likes...chemistry."
Me: "Oh. How old is she?" (I consider telling her that "chemistry" pays a hell of a lot better then "journalist," but I decide against it.)
CFP: "Sixteen."
(Another brief silence.)
CFP: "I married a bad man. Now all of my"

My heart breaks for her, but I have no idea what to say. I decide to counter with my own relationship failings, but I know anything I say is just going to sound overprivileged and rich and frivolous to a woman who has left everything she has to come to America and work in a fucking nail salon, where, presumably, she'll make more money than she ever could have in Nepal.

Me: "I don't know if I want to get married. I... I have a boyfriend, but..."
CFP: "Is he journalist?"
Me: "No, he's..." (I try to think of a way to explain his job in simple terms) "an artist. He does [redacted]."
CFP: "Ohhhh!" (she seems pleased) "You have...same hearts. Same mind. If you can support each other and help each other. Same hearts."
Me: (I smile.) "He's a good man."

My man is a good man, and, like everything else in life, it's complicated. Or maybe my head is. Not wars-in-Nepal complicated, but just complicated enough to make me second-guess the fairy tale. I wish it could be as simple as "same hearts, same mind."

I tip her five dollars, which is more than I usually give but still seems Scrooge-like. On my way out, after she's put my purse on my arm and tugged my rolled-up jeans back down around my ankles, she looks at me and says, "Nice to meet you."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Bad Idea Jeans: Don't Do This with Your Money

Sometimes I run across suggestions about how to spend your money that are just so incredibly counterproductive and unwise that I want to broadcast them to the world next to a big skull-and-crossbones "poison" symbol. Conveniently, because I have a blog, I can make this happen.

How NOT to Spend Your Money:

1. Immediately Spending Free Money
Discover offers a Cashback Bonus program, which is nice enough. You charge items to your Discover card, and they give you a (rather small) percentage of the money to spend as you choose. Now, the right way to use their program is to request a check for your bonus money and immediately invest it, which you can absolutely do. Except (thank you, cross-promotional marketing gods) you can also opt to double or increase your reward if you dump that money into one of Discover's "partner" sites: various and often random businesses (Lobster Gram, anyone?) that will give you a gift certificate for their merchandise in exchange for your bonus money. The program even has a testimonial:

"When I discovered that BLOCKBUSTER was a partner in the Cashback Bonus Program, I immediately decided to not only get a Discover Card but was determined to buy everything possible using the Card."

There are SO many things wrong with that sentence. Not only is this supposed "cardholder" frittering away his free money on movies (though, to be fair, if he's a movie junkie and would be buying them anyway, it IS a better deal to get the Blockbuster gift certificate free), but he's also spending far more money than necessary, which he'll probably pay exorbitant interest on, just to get a gift certificate. Bad Idea Jeans.

2. Keeping Up with the Hiltons
Like I've said before, I read Us Weekly often enough that I know where to get trendy clothes. I don't buy trendy clothes because I feel that they're a complete waste of money. Let's look at the numbers: $200 Paper Denim and Cloth jeans. A $5,000 Balenciaga bag. $500 Jimmy Choo heels. It's just good business sense:
Buying anything that's not deep, deep discount or at least wearable for more than one season at either Kitson, Shop Intuition, or similar boutique stores is a big financial mistake. Bad Idea Jeans. (Pardon the pun.)

3. Conspicuous Coffee Consumption
Anyone who buys coffee from Starbucks every weekday morning is overpaid and should start giving African orphans a cut of his paycheck immediately. Why? I love the occasional afternoon Mocha Frappuccino as much as the next gal, but even getting your tall morning drip fix costs $1.82 here in Manhattan. Buying a coffee from the cart directly across the street? Sixty cents. Again, run the numbers: After a year, Starbucks Yuppie (who carries a laptop bag with his company's insignia on it) has spent $455. Coffee Cart Girl (who looks less chic but has a huge, smug smile on her face) has spent $150. Bad Idea Jeans. I think African orphans could do a lot with $305 a year. Perhaps even subscribe to Us Weekly.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

F*ck Perfect

I'm tired of hearing about perfection.

I don't want to hear about people's effing holiday plans. Or their new shoes. Or how wonderful their new apartment is. Or how much they're looking forward to their wedding/engagement/anniversary celebration. I am officially sick of the veneer of happiness.

I wish people would gush to me about what in their lives makes them insane or talk about how when their boyfriends chew their spaghetti funny, it makes them crazy, or how New York is nothing what they thought it would be. It's not for me. (Believe me, if I knew I was signing up for endless workdays with no respect, no outlet for the writing I went to school for, no hope of ever owning a piece of property, and relationships that look better on paper than in real life, I might have decided to move to San Diego. Seriously.)

I want to hear about everyone's deepest disappointments. I want to know that I'm not the only one who gets home from work at 10:30 p.m. toting a bottle of wine from the deli because maybe that will ease me into enough sleep to forget about the previous 13 hours. I want to hear about lies, about dissatisfactions we never thought we'd come upon, and about life and how it never, ever goes the way we planned -- or the way we were told it would/should go.

I want to hear about Bible class and the moment we suspected we were being fed something slanted. Or the time we found our dad's porn and never looked at him the same way again. Or when our girlfriend told us something awful and we stayed with her anyway.

I want to hear the thoughts that keep us up at night, the stupid worries that we fear will plague us for years. The regrets that might never go away. The one thing that keeps us from thinking we're special. The one thing we want to tell a cab driver when we're drunk. That one thing about us that's too horrible for anyone else to know.

That is what is interesting. That is what is real. That is what is human.

(Not drapes. Or rings. Or vacations. Or dresses.)